Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

Normally when I hear about some remake of an old TV show I roll my eyes, fall to my knees and curse the movie gods for yet another blatant failure of original thought, until I heard that they were remaking ‘What’s Happening!’. Rog and Rerun and them on the big screen, plus its being directed by maverick auteur M. Night Shyamalan? Sure seeing Marky Mark’s name attached to the project caused me some concern… I mean he may be a decent actor and all but I doubt he could pull off a credible Rog… I was still pretty excited. My mind was just racing at what could possibly be the ‘twist’ that Mr. Shyamalan would put into that modern masterpiece of 1970’ sitcom wizardry. Imagine my crushed dreams when I learned that my man wasn’t re-making ‘What’s Happening!’ at all but is simply making some kind of ecology horror movie called ‘The Happening’. Marky Mark would have a crappy Rog anyway.

At 8:30 in the A.M. in New York’s Central Park, an event has occurred causing people to stop what they are doing and start killing themselves. A few blocks uptown some construction workers begin systematically launching themselves off their scaffolds to their deaths. Around this time High School science teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) is lecturing his class about the disappearance of the honey bee when he is called out of class with the rest of the teachers, including his best friend and math teacher Julian (John Leguizamo), with the principle alerting them about what appears to be biological terrorist attack on New York City. Julian informs Elliot that his mother in Philly says that they can stay with them until the attack blows over so Elliot grabs his blue-eyed wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) who’s he’s having some issues with, while Julian grabs his young daughter Jess (Ashlyn Sanchez) with his wife coming on a later bus as they hop on a train to the land of cheese stakes and incredibly angry sports fans. Alma has really blue eyes by the way.

Problem is whatever happened in New York is happening in Philadelphia as well so the train stops and puts everybody out in the middle of some Podunk Pennsylvania town

leaving these folks to fend for themselves. Julian has lost contact with his wife prompting him to leave his daughter in the hands of Elliot and Alma while he looks for her as we get word that the event is spreading like wildfire across the northeast.  Elliot,  Alma and Jess manage to hook up with a weird hot dog loving plant dude (Frank Collison) and his wife (Victoria Clark) as they attempt to drive out of the northeast away from this biological terror, and the plant dude even has a theory on why this is happening. Unfortunately our people are surrounded by whatever this thing is causing them to seek refuge by foot, with Elliot building on the plant dudes theories to come up with his own theories and ways to survive the disaster. By now full paranoia has set in as our heroes witness the horror of this disease in action, and with no apparent way to fight it, it looks as if they are also witnessing the end of man.

First of all, despite my ‘What’s Happening’ disappointment, allow me to congratulate Fox Pictures and M. Night Shyamalan on releasing a film that’s not a sequel, remake, rehash, Old TV show, Comic Book, Graphic Novel, or a Novel adaptation and is from paper to screen and original film. I’ve thanked the filmmaker for this before and I’ll keep on doing it as long as he keeps making original films. Kudos. This doesn’t keep ‘The Happening’ from being any less underwhelming, but at least it is an original. In many ways ‘The Happening’ is a typical Shyamalan film in that the pace is methodical, the hero is an overwhelmed Everyman and the audience is kept pretty much in the dark while being spoon fed information. This is quite effective for the first half of the film as we are along for the ride and able to feel the terror of the characters and watch in horror as this deadly airborne virus takes its toll on the unsuspecting. It is when the source of the terror starts to reveal itself that the movie starts to lose its edge. The director attempts to recreate the tension that has slowly been ebbing away with blowing winds and ominous shots of our attackers, but by this point I’ve lost that early feeling of dread that I was experiencing and I wouldn’t get it back. During the films third act our heroes run into a crazy lady played by Betty Buckley, and though Ms. Buckley does play a great crazy lady, but now it seems as if the filmmakers were of the thought that the original menace didn’t generate near the threat that it was supposed to for the audience and something else was needed amp it up, and it just didn’t work for me.

Then there was Zooey Deschanel’s blue eyes. I know Shyamalan likes to work with specific colors in his films, though for the life of me I don’t know what the numerous extreme close ups Zooey Deschanel’s wide eyed, starry like crystal blue eyes was supposed to represent. Is this some kid of reference to Toni Morrison’s novel ‘The Bluest Eye’, even though that book has nothing to do with ecological terror? Is it linked to that stupid ass mood ring that Marky Mark was so fond of? Oh how I wish I knew.

I’m sure there’s a solid message here telling us to be kind to our planet or our planet will be unkind to us, accentuated with background shots of two nuclear stacks billowing out toxic smoke, and though the message is appreciated the movie itself was a bit on the lackluster side. As I said earlier ‘The Happening’ is in many ways is a typical M. Night Shyamalan film, only atypical in the fact unlike his previous films, this one left me cold as I exited the theater.

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